Just as exercise is medicine, so is food. And just as it’s possible to dig your grave with your own knife and fork, it’s also possible to prevent and treat disease as well as improve your body with your utensils.
Unfortunately, most people are never very honest about what their knives and forks are doing. In fact, a speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil approach is usually taken. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard one of these lines, I’d be a very wealthy gal.
“I eat really well…”
“…I’m still 20lbs overweight.”
“My diet is perfect…”
“…I often feel sluggish and my energy is low.”
“I make good nutritional choices…”
“…I’ve got high blood pressure, cholesterol, and type II diabetes.”
Obviously these are all fibs. If you ate really well, if your diet was perfect, or if you made good nutritional choices, these would not be problems. So, the best way for you to get started in improving your diet is to follow these five rules:
1. Eat about 4 – 5x a day and don’t wait so long between meals.
Research has demonstrated that those people who eat more frequently tend to have better blood sugar control, lower stress hormone production, lower body fat, and more lean muscle. But their food has to be the right stuff.
2. Include lean protein sources at every meal and snack. Examples: Meats, all-natural nut butters, plain non-fat yogurt (add berries or fruit of your own) or non-fat Greek yogurt such as Chobani, hardboiled eggs, nuts or seeds, reduced fat cheese sticks, edamame (soy beans), beans such as kidney, chickpeas, black beans, all-natural protein bars (look for high fiber, high protein and watch the fat content >6g fat is too much!)
The ideal amount of protein per day for an exercising individual is 1 gram per pound of body weight. For a 140 lb woman, that’d be 140 g of protein. Getting this much means grabbing some protein every time you snack or eat a meal.
3. Include veggies at every meal and snack.
The ideal amount of veggies each day is about 8 servings. Now, the every meal thing isn’t necessary. But it’s quite tough to get all these servings if you don’t include some cooked, raw, juiced, or blended veggies with each meal.
4. Include a variety of healthy fats.
Our food supply today contains an abundance of unhealthy fat sources. To get our fat intake back to where it should be, we need to include things like olive oil, avocados, flax oil, fish oil, raw nuts, etc. each day.
5. Consume carbohydrate-rich foods only after exercise.
Carbs aren’t the enemy. But they should be controlled — especially for women — since it’s easy to over eat them. The best strategy to control carbs is to eat mostly whole grain carbohydrates (like amaranth, quinoa, whole grain oats, etc.) and to save them until after exercise. Since exercise increases our body’s ability to effectively utilize carbohydrates, the ideal time to eat some whole grains is within the first few hours post exercise.
These “rules” are a great start. But they won’t get the job done alone. In fact, there are two other secrets to helping you look and feel healthier.
Other Food Ideas
The first is a lesson we can take from the Okinawans, called hara hachi bu. In Okinawa, heart disease and stroke rates are lower than in North America. So are cholesterol, homocysteine, and blood pressure measures. Rates of cancer are lower as well – especially breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer. Hip fractures are lower and dementia is rare. Plus the Okinawans tend to live longer.
What’s their secret? Hara hachi bu. Roughly translated this means eating only until you’re 80% full. And no more. Now, this isn’t a dietary suggestion. Rather, it’s part of their culture. Anyone who stuffs themselves is considered a glutton. In the end, many experts believe that this cultural practice, in conjunction with the Okinawan diet rich in fruits and veggies, fish, and legumes is the secret of their success.
The other thing that’ll help you look your best? If you have a male partner, make sure his portion sizes don’t impact yours. If you live and/or dine with a male partner, chances are you automatically overeat simply because you two are eating together.
Think about dinners out. You are served the same portions. Yet you’re likely not the same size. Do you really think that you need to eat the same amount as he does? Only if you want to weigh the same as him, I guess. And the same goes for meals at home. I bet you serve meals on the same size plate for both of you. That’s another recipe for overeating.
To help prevent his portions from influencing yours, there are a few strategies you should adopt immediately.
First, when at restaurants, ask if they’ll accommodate small potion sizes. He gets the normal size, you get the smaller one. And if that doesn’t work, here’s something else I do. I order what I want. Then I tell the server to split it into two, boxing up one half for later. This way I get two meals for the price of one.
Next, at home, make sure you have two different size plates: One large one for the man of the house, and one small one for the women or children. Then you can fill all the plates, none of them look sad and empty, and all of you eat an appropriate portion.
Next time I'll be discussing the last component of transitioning your body - proper supplementation. In the meantime, begin with making small changes in your dietary intake. What can you commit to this week?
Alissa Robertson, MS, RD